Thinly Spread

Last week’s snow has melted. The rain that lashed down most of Saturday and all of Sunday has vanished. I draw back curtains to a dawn smoked pink with lifting mist. An English spring sky spray-painted egg-shell blue and sun that streams through the window forging the frame gilt.

Mum won’t see any of it; Depression has its hands over her eyes. It snuck up from behind and planted them there so firmly she couldn’t prize them off. It didn’t need to say Guess Who? We all knew. We could see it coming. Sometimes I don’t know if she doesn’t. Or won’t. Does articulating a thing, ‘I think I’m getting sick again’ set it in stone? Does acknowledging a condition by articulation make it unavoidable? Inevitable?

So there we are. It’s back again. Nearly two years since we shooed it out of the door, Out Damn Spot, Out, it’s back. With vengeance. Always with vengeance. Thumbing its nose and curling its thin lip in an ugly sneer, ‘Hah! You thought you’d got rid of me for good’.

We did actually. We thought the latest wonder drug was just that: a wonder. Ah yes, says the psychiatrist, it was. Until it became suspiciously apparent that its efficacy had a Use By Date. Two years. ‘Probably a bit less’ said Dr H, ‘it seems to run out of steam after that’.

And that seems doubly-whammy unfair; Mum’s Depression-born despondency exacerbated by bitter, bitter disappointment that the bloody stuff wasn’t the prophylaxis it was touted to be.

And so it’s back on the exhausting hamster-wheel of recovery: Dr H leafs through Mum’s not insubstantial file, making notes about what she’s been prescribed before, what’s left in the pharmaceutical arsenal against this bloody, bloody (and bloody-minded) illness.

Lots as it happens. For the armoury is constantly evolving. It has to: Depression remains quick-silver enigmatic, foxing the experts and slinking into lives against the drugged-up, CBT-sandbagged, odds.

There is hope, says Dr H, for there are new silver bullets we can arm Mum with. And I want to hug her. Hope is a bullet in itself.

But I want to hug Mum more. I want to hug her and then put her in my pocket where she will be safe and warm and where I can keep taking her out to check on her, where I can leave her be, cozily ensconced at the worst-dawn-end of the day, where I can draw her carefully out come dusk and see if she has the energy for a laugh, the stamina for one of my inane jokes, twilight, when to tell her, ‘I want to hear you smile Ma’, won’t make her cry.


Hat frets that Mum is sick because of her. ‘Was it something I did?’, she asks tearfully, ‘did I make Granny sad?’.

I want to weep.

But I want to rejoice more.

I was Hat’s age when Mum first succumbed to this monster. I thought her surrender to despair was my fault. I don’t know why. Because when you are 13 the world revolves around you, because when you are 13 you believe you are pivotal to everything that happens, good and bad, just because your small world is beginning to crack the tiniest window on a big, big world? Because Mrs X next door told her daughter, who told me, ‘that girl has made her mother sick with worry, sick with worry!’? Cow. Because children – and Hat is just a child, as was I – can only see the black and white of cause and effect, they can’t see the smoke and mirrors and shades of grey that muddy grownups’ world.

And though – for the most part – I began to understand that Depression was a stealth that stole into lives regardless – that it couldn’t be helped, that it just happened, that it wasn’t anybody’s fault – there was still an uncomfortable part of me that continued to guiltily fret, ‘did I do this to mum’.

And so it is only now, only now as I sit across a supper table from my beautiful Hat, with her welling eyes and quavering voice, ‘Is Gran sick because of me?’ that I can begin to believe I was blameless.

‘Absolutely not’, I tell Hat as I take her small hand, ‘sometimes grownups get sick and sad and it can’t be helped, it just happens and it isn’t anybody’s fault’.


I don’t know if the boots did any good. They kept my feet warm. And I didn’t trip. I walked tall into all five schools, with Hat, clutching her scrap book, in my nervously splashing wake. She sat exams. She told Heads and Directors of Study and Registrars about her funny little African life.

I sat beside her and held my tongue.

Until the Heads and Directors of Study and Registrars said, having heard her out about school in the ether, ‘and now Mum and Dad have decided it’s time for you to go to proper school’ (because, of course, they do not know my Hat objects fiercely to the proper: ‘my school’, she will say indignantly, ‘is proper; it’s just different’).

And then it’s my cue to say: ‘oh no, this is Hat’s decision’.

And the Heads/Directors of Study/Registrars look askance and ask Hat, ‘Is that so?’, and she confirms it with an energetic nod of her head so that titian curls bounce, and a broad, broad grin.


And so we must pack and head home to await our fate. It’s in the hands of the gods now, I tell Hat: we’ve done our bit; you’ve done your best.

And if feels like abandonment. Of Mum. Who is brittle with something that isn’t even sadness, it’s worse than that: it’s indifferent emptiness. Mum who is captive in the chilly, silent, hard-cold-walled isolation of that Bell Jar of Depression which renders her immune to Life, inures her to warmth and laughter and pins her arms to her sides and hobbles her to crippling enervation.

But I am needed elsewhere.

Your life sounds so hectic, says Mum in an exhausted, tiny voice (for Depression is a heavy, heavy weight to bear).

I am thinly spread. Everybody needs a little piece of me now. I’m a mum with one husband, three kids and a two-bit job. What do you expect?

And I one who, like my dad, waits until her toast is cool so that she can spread the butter, real butter (not that muck masquerading as same) pat thick.

Which is the real reason too much butter is bad for you; thinly spread means there isn’t time to think and that’s a good thing for too much of that – too much thinking – can make a person go mad.

Thinly spread butter and making jam and the metaphors of motherhood layer.

And I must go.

20 Responses to “Thinly Spread”

  1. nuttycow Says:

    Bugger RM – sorry to hear about your mum. Having lived with N, I now realise the utter agony of being on the outside looking in at a loved one battling with this. My thoughts are with you.

    Oh, and best of luck to Hat. I’m sure she aced the interviews. What school wouldn’t want someone with such great experiences?

  2. reluctantmemsahib Says:

    ah, nutty, thank you: such kindness. and empathy. Depression is a lonely place x

  3. Mud Says:

    How awfully torn. The beauty of your words belie the ugliness of depression. Thoughts are with your mum – and you of course. And all luck for dear Hat.

  4. guineapigmum Says:

    Did Hat find a school that she likes best? I hope they take her. They sound so patronising – time to go to proper school – it must have been hard to bite your tongue.

    We’re battling with my sister’s major depression again. She’s had months and months in hospital, yet another overdose this week, and now we’re at the stage of having to get power of attorney and persuade her to sell her house, her bolthole, and move to some form of more permanent care. It’s such an awful disease – it’s stolen her life completely. I do so hope your mum finds another drug that works for a while. I’d like to write a blog about my sister but it’s not really my story to tell.

  5. R. Sherman Says:

    My prayers for you and your family. It must be so hard to leave at this time. I trust all went well for your daughter. I’m sure she’ll succeed. Your words convey how sharp she is.

  6. reluctantmemsahib Says:

    thank you Mud. thank you x

    Guineapigmum: she did, find a school she liked best. But now we must wait to her if they liked her best. I was so sad to read of your sister’s experience – what a cruel, cruel illness this is. My thoughts are with you all. But I think to tell the story of Depression from the outside is sometimes an important one: it looks different from the outside. And it needs those of us who understand it’s not about sloth or self-indulgence to describe it’s painful, horrible reality in order to summon some little extra sympathy, empathy, compassion. to whip the stigma away, for those on the harrowing inside of those stories often can’t find the words. x

  7. reluctantmemsahib Says:

    Thank you Mr S – that’s very kind. And yes, it is very hard to leave.

  8. Voyager Says:

    I have followed your blog for a while. At first it was because of where you live: I lived in Tanzania as a girl. But your writing about depression is what keeps me coming back. I too have been ocasionally felled by that son-of-a-bitch of a disease all my adult life. Fortunately, 15 years ago I found meds that keep it at bay most of the time. And even when the dark worms its way in, I don’t sink as far as I once did. I hope your Mom’s doctors find such help for her.

    Hat’s experience reminded me vividly of when I was 12 and my Mom and I left Dar Es Salaam for Nairobi, and visited all of the boarding schools, finally settling on Limuru Girl’s School.


  9. MissingMoshi Says:

    Your poor poor Mum. My heart breaks for you and for her.
    I have several family members who live with depression. It has no fairness about it.
    Here in the US doctors will combine the best antidepressant medications which can help.
    Do you think the cold and dark of winter adds to her depression? Has she ever used the natural lights that simulate sunshine?
    My family members have had very good results using the light in addition to the medication.
    I wish you could put you mum in your pocket and protect her. What a warm and beautiful picture that made.

    Keeping my fingers crossed that Hat will get to attend the school at the top pf her list!

  10. Jon Storey Says:

    Having like most people, been a bit down at times in my life, I can only begin to imagine the true depth of full blown depression.

    Very best wishes to your Mum.

    Sounds as if the interviews went well, fingers crossed…

  11. Miss Welcome Says:

    This is so beautifully written, I was very touched. There are so many things to relate to – depression (my own and my mom’s), being a mom, having lived in Africa …. I can’t wait to read more.

  12. Rob Says:

    That is the thing about Depression isn’t it, it affects those people close to the person who is suffering as they feel so helpless. The thing is, people suffering with it can’t change how they feel. I believe that the only thing that they CAN change is their actions and behaviour, but their feelings are so overwhelming that they FEEL that this too is impossible. The only way out of this negative cycle is to physically do something small and positive, and then slowly, over time, the cycle is broken and the person regains their self-esteem and confidence. So the only thing anyone as a carer can do is chivvy and encourage the sufferer to take small little positive actions (like getting dressed, going for a walk, eating a meal, doing the washing up) and over time, and with patience, they WILL pay off.

    As the saying goes, “Sow and act and reap a habit, sow a habit and reap a character, sow a character and reap a destiny”. Or as a deceased friend of mine used to say “Sow a sprout and reap a cabbage!”

    Good luck with the school hunt. I will keep my fingers crossed for ye.

  13. Says:

    My thoughts & prayers are with you too. My sister has suffered badly from depression. I knew nothing about it till her first ’bout’ And my dad in his generational way has suffered & denied it for yrs & yrs.

    Looking forward to hearing about the results of the school hunt for Hat

  14. connie Says:

    Beautiful post – thankyou. Have you read SUNBATHING IN THE RAIN by Gwyneth Lewis? The author (a writer and poet) suffered severe depression and wrote this book as she was coming out of it.

  15. nappyvalleygirl Says:

    Very sorry to hear about your mum – it must be terribly difficult for all of you.

    I bet Hat really impressed those teachers – here’s hoping she gets into them all and can take her pick.

  16. Tash Says:

    pole sana, for everyone. thinking of you all xx

  17. Limner Says:

    Dear Rob, if only it were that simple. I’ve just recently been able to write about the disease that holds me hostage. Feeling better is not about doing things by degrees until they become habit. Depression is a disease that leaves it’s mark by altering brain chemistry. I learned yesterday that we are left with lesioning of the hippocampus, and brain cells die. For most of us depression is a life-long illness like diabetes.

    I am so fortunate to have found this site. It is the only place I hear discussions about depression. Thank you. No one discusses it in my family. No one understands or tries to. I am getting better. Better means not having so many downward spirals. It’s taken years of medication trials and errors with my psychiatrist, and therapy to get here. Then last week a prescription prescribed by a neurologist undid eight years of hard work. So, I’m climbing out of the pit again, having dodged suicide.

    Your mother is so blessed to have you. Love and hugs to you both, and thanks again for talking about it openly. You’ve made me feel good.

  18. Limner Says:

    P.S. Am crossing my fingers for the school situation to end up be everything it needs to be. It’s important that it be just right. 😀

  19. Iota Manhattan Says:

    Hat and I have similar attitudes. I’m “not wrong, just different”, and she’s “proper, just different”. I like Hat.

  20. Rob Says:

    Hi Limner
    Not having suffered from Depression myself it is difficult to truly know what it feels like from the inside. I know that the medical profession insist that it is a disease of the brain and can only be rectified with drugs, I am not 100% convinced. I think that drugs have an important role to play in alleviating some of the symptoms, or dealing with relapses crises, but I don’t believe that they should be the central (or only) role in treatment. I think evidence suggests that most sufferers would likely have been on many different treatment therapies, which might all have worked to alleviate symptoms for a time, but very few people get “cured” from Depression which suggests to me that the drugs simply suppress symptoms for a time and never get to the root of the problem.

    I am afraid that I am a bit of a cynic and think that there are too many vested interests from pharmaceutical companies and psychiatrists, so it is in their interests to propagate the thesis that lifelong medication is the sole treatment option. I would recommend Terry Lynch’s book “Beyond Prozac” to explore this viewpoint further.

    Mind yourself.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: